McNAIR AND THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY
McNair participated extensively in the affairs of the Democratic Party at both the state and national levels. At a time when tensions were building between the national Party and Democrats in Southern states, McNair trod carefully in an effort to reconcile the South Carolina leadership with the progressive policies at the federal level.
As a supporter of President Lyndon B. Johnson and Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, McNair raised the ire of some fellow Democrats, and they were not shy about letting him know. As one of his more polite constituents wrote in 1964, "Being a South Carolina Democrat believing in States Rights and the Constitution as written, I find Johnson's current views totally foreign to these principles."
A straw poll conducted at a state Democratic Party workshop in August, 1966, showed that "Integration and race-related problems seem to represent the most important state-wide issue. People in South Carolina tend to equate the Johnson administration with racial integration and disorder.... The major national issues seem to be civil rights, the Viet Nam War and inflation, in that order. There is also concern about government spending. South Carolinians want to win in Viet Nam, and they want peace quickly.... They don't understand inflation, and it scares them. They don't mind government spending that benefits them, but they don't want federal strings attached."
In September, 1967, Vice President Humphrey visited Greenville, S.C., to take part in groundbreaking ceremonies for a new mental health center, part of a large complex that was being developed by Greenville General Hospital (right, with Governor and Mrs. McNair behind him). The center was financed through the Appalachian Regional Development Act. Humphrey's itinerary included a breakfast session with the Governor and various educational, manpower, and training officials to discuss the state's progress in occupational training to meet the requirements of industrial expansion. He also visited Furman University, where he conferred with members of the faculty and student body on key issues of the day.
As a prominent Democratic leader, McNair was approached by the South Carolina Party's Platform Committee for his views on the issues to include in the 1968 platform. Committee representative William Morrison, Jr., wrote, "We respect your position and your advice, and we hope you will furnish us with your thoughts on what should be contained in our proposed Platform." The Governor responded, "My idea is to include a sentence or two or however much you feel advisable about a number of State agencies and programs which have progressed under Democratic Administrations within the State."
Divisions within the state were growing and the Party was doing all it could to hold itself together. A January 2, 1968, letter from Party Chairman Earle Morris, Jr., included this pragmatic statement: "It is our opinion that we cannot run state races and a presidential campaign within the framework of one office, i.e., our State Headquarters. To combine both of these would, in my opinion, be unacceptable to some of our state nominees. We, therefore, feel that a separate campaign effort must be established for the presidential race if we are to keep South Carolina Democratic Party efforts together."
McNair served as a delegate to the 1968 Democratic National Convention, held August 26-29, in Chicago. At left, he stands on the hotel balcony with fellow delegates Senator Edgar Brown and Lieutenant Governor John West.
In the months leading up to the convention, rumors drifted through South Carolina that, as a result of his dedication to the Democratic Party and his support of Vice President Hubert Humphrey, there was a possibilty that McNair would receive the vice-presidential nomination. However, when the time came, Humphrey chose Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine.
The Chicago convention is notorious for its protracted anti-war demonstrations and images of rioting protesters clashing with police surrounding the convention center. Mayor Richard Daley took a hard line against the protesters, refusing permits for rallies and marches, and calling for whatever force was necessary to subdue the crowds. This hard line was also evident on the convention floor itself, as some journalists were manhandled by security.
After the convention, despite widespread castigation of Mayor Daley in the press, McNair wrote to thank him: "Congratulations on your success in keeping Chicago a safe city for delegates to the National Democratic Convention! While you are catching hell from the other side, I want you to know we support your stand on law and order 100%!" McNair himself was praised by his supporters for "the fine dignified manner in which you handled the South Carolina delegation" at the convention.
Throughout his terms in office, McNair was a faithful and determined advocate of the Democratic Party. He held Governor's Dinner fund-raisers; he served as chairman of the National Democratic Governors' Conference and vice-chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). He continued his support after leaving office. In 1971, he chaired the DNC’s Task Force on National Growth Policy and Regional Development, served as a member of the new Democratic Party National Finance Council, and as Governor’s Liaison to the DNC. In 1974, McNair chaired the Arrangements Committee responsible for planning the Democratic Party’s midterm conference, held in Kansas City that December.